John Watson Book Review (52)
By Publisher, Part 2
IM John Watson - Thursday 30th January 2003
Starting Out: the Caro-Kann
192 pages; Everyman 2002
Starting Out: The Queen's Gambit
Starting Out: the Sicilian
174 pages, Everyman 2002
Starting Out: The Nimzo-Indian
176 pages; Everyman 2002
Starting Out: The King's Indian
176 pages; Everyman 2002
The Sicilian Kan
192 pages; Everyman 2002
The Gruenfeld Defence
160 pages; Everyman 2002
160 pages; Everyman 2002
Chess Brilliancy: 250 Games From the Masters
224 pages; Everyman 2002
Taming the Sicilian
144 pages; Everyman 2002
Mastering the Opening
176 pages; Everyman 2001
In this column I continue to examine books sorted by publisher. Keep in mind that I have only skimmed through some of these works, but I want to mention them anyway so that the reader may be informed about what is available.
Everyman Chess is easily one the two most important names in chess publishing, at least for serious books of the sort that I review in TWIC (Gambit Publishing is the other). They have put out nearly every type of book ranging from excellent games collections (e.g., Shirov, Kramnik, Khalifman) to openings to instruction. I think that it's fair to say that Everyman has generally emphasised an approach one level down in technicality than Gambit's. They have tried to appeal to players all the way from developing ones to tournament players, but have kept their material less detailed than a strong master or professional would normally use. This philosophy is undergoing an evolution, and I would say that Everyman has recently been staking out a middle ground between, say, lower club player and low master, whereas although Gambit has numerous intermediate-level books, they (Gambit) continue to publish traditionally denser and more complete books on openings, as well as a few encyclopaedic works. It is important to note that Everyman is putting out a large number of more elementary books and books on tactics and endings that are readable and user-friendly to lower players. I will not examine such books in this column, so the interested reader might want to go to their website at: http://www.everyman.uk.com
The freshest development from Everyman is their 'Starting Out' opening books series, which reminds one of their 'Easy Guide' opening books series from the past few years, but takes a different and in many ways more attractive approach. Everyman has certainly tackled the problem of the opening book in a variety of ways. Amidst these two series they put out the four more-detailed 'Attacking with [1.e4/1.d4]' and 'Meeting [1.e4/1.d4]' books reviewed previously, and also a variety of more conventionally detailed opening books such as the Gruenfeld Defence one by Nigel Davies and the Kan Sicilian book by John Emms above. Finally, Everyman has repertoire books such as Davies' Taming the Sicilian. The sheer quantity of these openings books is impressive and I obviously can only concentrate upon a few of them.
The 'Starting Out' series takes a new and appealing approach to the task of presenting openings to the average (but not beginning) player. The opening variations are given a short general introduction. Then the introductory moves are set forth, normally with short explanatory notes. Sometimes these opening moves themselves go fairly deeply into the game, e.g., Emms' book lays out and explains 12 moves of Bg5 Najdorf before branching into two illustrative games and 13 moves of the 6.Be2 e5 Najdorf before doing the same. After the introductory moves, there are three mini-sections called 'Strategies' (in which the ideas and plans are explained), 'Theoretical?' (making the interesting judgment of how important it is to memorize the specific line or not), and 'Statistics', which indicates how often a line is played and how that has changed over the years. I think that readers will appreciate this sort of overview. Next come the illustrative games (beginning on the move after those already introduced), which emphasise verbal explanation without many variations, but give enough of the latter to avoid condescension. This structure is easy on the reader and I suspect much more palatable to the lower and developing player than the denser 'Meeting/Attacking with' and 'Easy Guide' series. The obvious drawback is that these are not and do not pretend to be theoretical books (there just isn't room) and most of them offer little or nothing new from the standpoint of theory (i.e., new moves and ideas). They are what a player would want who desires to get a good taste of an opening without learning the gory details. Of course I have always preferred the more thorough and systematic opening books, and I feel that it is through the study of details and subtle differences that we come to really understand chess. But that's simply not realistic for many players, and in my opinion the series is as good an alternative as I've seen, since it will give players confidence and stimulate them to take the next step by investigating more 'serious' works. In that sense this is truly a 'Starting Out' series of books.
Using the format given above, John Emms' Starting Out: the Sicilian achieves the remarkable feat of presenting the entire Sicilian Defence for both sides in 174 pages! Amazingly, he does it very well, not even skimping on the Bb5 systems (10 pages), the c3 Sicilian, or even the Morra Gambit (2 illustrative games)! Of course some lesser lines are just omitted, but this is nevertheless a remarkable achievement, and Emms makes it readable throughout. Obviously you have to look elsewhere for any degree of detail. One might compare this, for example with Emms' recent work Sicilian Kan; that covers just one Sicilian variation (of intermediate importance at that) in 192 pages! As an old Taimanov/Kan player, I like the latter book, a detailed and competent effort that is of the 'complete' variety made for a more advanced player. But it stands in stark contrast to the philosophy of Starting Out: the Sicilian, which is to familiarise the reader with the broader outlines of a major opening and its many variations, not to teach one specifically how to play those variations.
In Starting Out: The King's Indian, Joe Gallagher does something different, albeit with the standard 'Starting Out' format. He strongly emphasizes the Black side of the King's Indian Defence, and consequently this is very close to a repertoire book. Starting Out: The King's Indian has more theoretical ideas and thoughts than books in the rest of this series. Gallagher, an experienced writer like the others, does his usual excellent job and seems more concerned with detail than his compatriots. Before you purchase it, however, you should realise that this is a book for King's Indian players much more than for their opponents. For an example of a contrasting philosophy, Gallagher's other book from this series, Starting Out: the Caro-Kann, is balanced in its judgments and relative excitement about each player's prospects. There may be a bit too much emphasis (18 pages) on the fashionable 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nc3 variation, but that's a tendency ('trap'?) that we've seen before with opening books. Although I don't know that much Caro-Kann theory, the book as a whole looks useful and well-organised.
There is some inconsistency in the various presentations of this series. John Shaw's Starting Out: The Queen's Gambit, is the most extreme case and in fact, it doesn't fit in with the series' idea. Shaw doesn't follow the format above, skipping the mini-sections and simply presenting the lines with illustrative games, a traditional Everyman approach. Shaw's is also a pure repertoire book from White's point of view. Most of White's alternatives to the main suggestion at each juncture are not given, whereas all of Black's most important responses are. The book is well-written and has easy-to-follow verbal guidance. It is more elementary than Sadler's Queen's Gambit Declined books but covers a much broader area including the Queen's Gambit Accepted, the Slav and Semi-Slav, and the Chigorin and Keres Defences.
I unfortunately haven't had a chance to more than glance at Chris Ward's Starting Out: The Nimzo-Indian, but it seems to be of a kind with the rest and Ward is an excellent author. The basic structure is the same as the others (excepting Shaw's) and the coverage appears to be balanced. Ward plays the Nimzo-Indian and produced a nice video about it, so it's likely that he has a feel for the correct weight to be given to each variation. On the whole, this series is very much recommended for those who can't or don't have the desire to put the time into more advanced works. These books will get you to a certain point in a practical sense, and again, they might be a good stepping stone to study of the latter.
The Gruenfeld Defence by the Nigel Davies deserves mention if only because strong IMs have already told me that it has some slightly unusual but sound ideas that they are incorporating into their repertoire. Davies himself says that he stresses more infrequently played lines and more ideas of lesser-known players than in a normal book, although it turns out that the main lines are also well-covered. This is a traditional opening book with many examples and dense analysis, but very much from the Black point of view as far as ideas and improvements go. It's a must for Grunfeld players, who haven't had much to bite into recently.
Davies' Taming the Sicilian will appeal to many 1.e4 players because it recommends playing g3 in just about every main Sicilian line, which tends to be a safe and fairly easy-to-learn solution. I haven't had time to read this book, so I won't make any judgments about it. The chief consideration for a potential reader is whether he or she enjoys playing the more dynamic main lines of the Sicilian or instead wants something that keeps the position more under control. The g3 systems generally offer fewer chances for a large advantage, at least in the theoretical sense, but also limit Black's dynamic possibilities.
I am loathe to comment upon the book Classical Dutch by IM Jan Pinski, since Gambit has recently released Play the Classical Dutch by IM Simon Williams and I don't have the expertise or inclination to compare them. Pinski's work is organised in traditional Everyman complete games fashion and the greater part of it is devoted to the main line 1.d4 f5 2.c4 (or 2.Nf3) 2...e6 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.0-0 d6. Importantly, Pinski gives considerable space to meeting White's second move options 2.e4, 2.Bg5, 2.Nc3, 2.g4, and 2.Qd3. These two books on the Classical Dutch indicate a rise in interest in what is after all a fairly solid opening.
Mastering the Opening by Byron Jacobs is still another type of opening book. This one aims at introducing players to general opening concepts by examining sample variations and structures from just about every major opening. Interestingly, it is a continuation of the 'Starting Out' series because it uses almost exactly the same structure: the introductory moves of a variation are followed by mini-sections called 'What is White's Strategy?' and 'What is Black's Strategy?', 'Tactical, Strategic, or Dynamic?', 'Theoretical?' and 'How Popular is it?'. These sections are followed by illustrative games (very lightly annotated, since every major opening in chess is covered, however briefly). The book contains many 'warnings' and 'tips' meant to help the reader grasp typical issues quickly. I think that they succeed in doing so without becoming too frequent or overbearing. Again, be aware that there is no systematic theory whatsoever, and there is not meant to be. In my experience, this sort of book can be very badly written and fairly useless or well-written in the sense that the writing flows and the reader is stimulated. Jacobs' is attentive to the readers' needs and his book matches the latter description. It is like a much-improved 'Ideas Behind the Chess Openings', although obviously too short to tackle the breadth of modern theory (a task still to be undertaken). For those developing-to-club players who want to get a grasp on general opening theory with some exposure to the most frequent types of standard structures, try out Mastering the Opening and get rid of that old copy of Fine.